This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1700 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.

There is a detailed Index arranged by vocation, doctor, activist group etc. There is also a Place Index arranged by City etc. This is still evolving.

In addition to this most articles have one or more labels at the bottom. Click one to go to similar persons. There is a full list of labels at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. There is also a search box at the top left. Enjoy exploring!

24 September 2017

Hanan Al Tawil حنان الطويل actress (1966 – 2004)

Tareq, born and raised in Egypt, was an actor, but felt wrong in the body, so went to Europe for the operation. On return she took the name Hanan Al Tawil, and announced from the stage that she had become a woman.

She was given a small part in the film Abboud Alal Hodood (Abboud on the Borders), directed by Sharif Arafeh. Arafeh then cast her as a school-teacher in Al Nazer (Headmaster).

She moved to comedy theatre, and to straight drama. In the play Hakim Uyoon (Ophthalmologist) she was cast as a young wife suffering from a negligent husband. Her family were quite accepting of her new self.

Hanan died at age 38, possibly from suicide. She had been frequently mocked and harassed, and took it badly.

El Cinema     IMDB


IMDB often becomes quite deficient, the further that it moves from Hollywood.   It lists only one film for Hanan: I Want my Right, 2003.  El Cinema list 6 films.

20 September 2017

Jayne Thomas ( 194? – 2002) psychologist

Jay Thomas grew up in a small town in Indiana, and as a teenager was a national swimming champion.

Despite feeling wrong as a boy, Jay married a woman at age 17, however she had great difficulties with her husband’s transsexual inclinations. Thomas moved to the Los Angeles area and worked as a consultant for movie and television productions and as an engineer psychologist for Hughes Industries, an aircraft development company.

A second wife was more supportive of the trans aspects, and they traveled together as two women. Thomas had children with both wives.

When the second wife passed on in 1985, Thomas felt free to transition. Thomas had been working as a consultant at a large Los Angeles banking firm, and was able to continue there as a woman.

Afterwards she gave counseling to other transsexuals, in accordance with the HBIGDA Standards of Care. In 1988 she took a part-time position in the Psychology Department at the Santa Monica College, where she was a well-regarded teacher who shared her background with the students. She also worked part-time at the Los Angeles Mission College.

With Kate Bornstein, Jayne appeared on the Geraldo television program “Who’s Sorry Now” about post-surgical regret. Kate and Jayne were there in contrast as successful and happy transsexuals.

Jayne was a speaker at the first New Women’s Conference in Essex, Massachusetts in 1991: her talk was reprinted in The Journal of Gender Studies.
“I've made the comment on more than one occasion that I'm a hell of a lot more comfortable with the masculine part of myself now, in female form, than I ever was when I was in male form. I couldn't be androgynous as a male. I can now. Because being male doesn't threaten me now”.
Jayne also gave lectures and presentations at other colleges. From this came the VHS tape Gender Identity: Variations of Expression. At one college presentation, after Thomas spoke of her gender history, an Iranian woman said:
"I knew there was something different about you. I knew it! Women don't walk around the way you do. Women aren't as assertive, as bold as you. Women your age wouldn't generally stand here like this and make a presentation."
Jayne’s son, an aspiring thespian had become involved in dance as a form of creative expression. Jayne met his teacher and also took the course, and found it useful in expressing a new gender. She and the teacher wrote this up and it was included in the Gender Blending anthology edited by the Bulloughs and James Elias.

During the spring semester, 2002 Jayne suffered a stroke and went into a coma. Despite medical care, she died a few months afterwards
  • Jayne Thomas. “Putting Gender Issues in Perspective: The Whole You”. Journal of Gender Studies, 14,1,Winter-Spring 1992: 3-19. Online.
  • Kate Bornstein. Gender outlaw: on men, women, and the rest of us. Vintage Book, 1995: 81.
  • Jayne Thomas & Toby Green. Gender Identity: Variations of Expression. VHS Tape, 1995.
  • Loren M. Wingert, CPA. “Coming Out: Transitioning Successfully On the Job”. Transgender Tapestry, 78, Winter 1996: D3. Online.
  • Jayne Thomas & Annette Cardona. “The Use of Dance/Movement in the Adjustment to a New Gender Role” in Bonnie Bullough, Vern L. Bullough & James Elias. Gender Blending. Prometheus Books, 1997: 405-412.
  • Daniel Harju. “Teacher Fights For Her Life: SMC instructor shared perspectives on human sexuality and personal life experiences”. Corsair, 84, 11, 13 November 2002. Online.
  • Jeffrey S Nevid & Spencer A Rathus. Psychology and the Challenges of Life, Binder Ready Version: Adjustment and Growth. 13th Edition. Wiley, 2016:404-5, 407.

Melanie Yarborough

17 September 2017

Noor Talbi نور طلبي dancer, model, actress (1969 - )

Noureddine Talbi was born in Agadir, and was raised in Hay Mohammedi, outside Casablanca. Talbi was good at languages and also a teenage athlete and won gold medals in the 110 and 440-metre hurdles at the national level, but was more interested in dancing, which was done at first in the family setting, and in imitation of the dance sequences in Egyption films.

Talbi left for Spain at 18, and then France where she found work on the fashion catwalks. Her name was now Noor (shortened from Noureddine, a unisex name that means ‘light’ in Arabic).

Back in Morocco she founded her own fashion brand … but she still wanted to dance. She studied oriental dance under renowned choreographers. Initially she was snubbed, as are all artists initially, and there were rumours about her gender history. However she persisted, and performed at shows, charity galas, weddings.

Her sister acted as her manager – until she got married. Noor has adopted a child. She sent her mother on the Hajj in 2002, and wants to go herself.
“I am a strong believer; I pray five times a day, I am very close to God."
Noor became one of the best known oriental dancers in Morocco. She also dances the kabuki, the hindi, the woolof and the charqi. She can speak French, English, Spanish, Italian and three Arabic dialects: the Moroccan darija, the Lebanese and the Egyptian. She is 1.85m (6'1"), a full 2 metres in heels. She had surgery in Egypt.

She has starred in films, headlined weddings for the rich, and is a regular at big events such as the Marrakech International Film Festival, run after by the paparazzi. She teaches dance in Rabat and Casablanca, and has performed in the US, Australia and Japan.  However she chooses not to work with LGBT activists despite being asked.

However Morocco refuses to reissue her identity card, and state television continues to ban her.
'If I wasn't such a strong woman, religious, humanly and social, another might have killed herself'.

FR.Wikipedia       IMDB

14 September 2017

Sylvia Rivera Part V: Later Years

Part I: beginnings
Part II:  GAA & Weinstein Hall
Part III: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries
Part IV:  Other activities to 1973
Part V:  Later years

Sylvia retreated to Tarrytown on the northern edge of New York City where she worked as a food services manager with the Marriott Corporation. With her husband Frank she bought a house, but they lost it after taking up crack.

She was discovered by David Isay for his radio program, Remembering Stonewall which was broadcast on the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1989. She was then interviewed by Martin Duberman and featured in his book, Stonewall, as a major participant.

Allyson Allanta, Sylvia, Ivana Valentin at Stonewall 26.
She joined the executive of the Stonewall Veterans Association.

She took it badly when Marsha was found dead in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers in 1992. In 1995 she herself attempted suicide by walking into the river.

From 1997 Sylvia lived at Transy House, the home of Rusty Mae Moore and Chelsea Godwin (who had been in the earlier S.T.A.R.). She was an alcoholic at this time, but after discussions with Rusty and Chelsea, she went cold turkey. She renewed her political activism, giving speeches concerning the need for unity among trans persons, and their position at the forefront of the GLBT movement.
Sylvia took up with a trans woman Julia Murray, and they became a couple.

She was active in New York’s Metropolitan Community Church, where she became the director at the food pantry.

Lee Brewster died in 2000, and Sylvia wrote an obituary, but none of the gay papers would print it.

Later that year she went to Italy for the Millenium March (the first WorldPride), and was acclaimed as the Mother of all gay people.

In 2001 she revived STAR (this time with T=transgender) and they fought for the New York City Transgender Rights Bill and for a trans-inclusive New York State Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. They also agitated for justice for Amanda Milan, a trans woman who had been killed on the street 20 June 2000. Sylvia still had to fight with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) who were neglecting trans issues. She was still negotiating with ESPA on her deathbed.

She died in 2002, with Julia at her side, of complications from cancer of the liver at age 50.

In her honor: MCC New York's queer youth shelter is called Sylvia's Place; In 2005, the corner of Christopher and Hudson Streets was renamed Rivera Way; the Sylvia Rivera Law Project is dedicated
"to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence".
*Not known to be related to Birdy Rivera, or René Rivera (Mario Montez).

Sylvia is included in the 2002 anthology GenderQueer, and this is very appropriate, and in retrospect was timely as she died the same year. She had been on external hormones as a teenager, but discontinued. Unlike Virginia Prince, who also discontinued hormones and abandoned her intention to gain surgery, Sylvia remained positive about those who continued the journey:  In her article she says:
“I thought about having a sex change, but I decided not to. I feel comfortable being who I am. That final journey many of the transwomen and transmen make is a big journey. It’s a big step and and I applaud them, but I don’t think I could ever make that journey. Maybe it comes of my prejudice when so many in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s ran up to the chop shop at Yonkers General. They would get a sex change and a month, maybe six months, later they’d kill themselves because they weren’t ready. Maybe that made me change my mind.”

In 1970-2, Sylvia corrected those who who referred to her as a 'drag queen', and preferred the word ‘transvestite’. However in her essay for GenderQueer, she used ‘drag queen’.  This of course creates some confusion with respect to the 1973 pride march in that the Club 82 performers were drag queens in a very different sense.

Sylvia was lucky in those who wrote about her: Arthur Bell, David Isay, Martin Duberman; and it is the media construction resulting from these three writers that is most of her legend.  So let us return to the question raised in Part I:  was she actually at the first night of the Stonewall riots?  Arthur Bell was in Europe with his lover Arthur Evans that summer, and says nothing about Stonewall in his book, Dancing the Gay Lib Blues, 1971, although he publicized her trial for soliciting signatures on a petition for gay rights, and later her involvement in StarHouse.   It is presumably the fame resulting from this that led David Isay and Martin Duberman to include her in their accounts of Stonewall.   On the other hand the carefully researched books by David Carter and Stephan Cohen conclude that she was not there.   If so, why did she say that she was?    Perhaps she did not want to disappoint them?  In her final writing, the essay in GenderQueer, she carefully says that 'we' (that is street queens) were at Stonewall, but does not say that 'I' was.  If she were not, it was rather bold of her to be on the executive of the  Stonewall Veterans Association.

It does not matter if Sylvia were not at Stonewall.  Her actions as recounted in this series justify her place in history in either case.

I mainly followed Stephan L. Cohen. The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: 'an Army of Lovers Cannot Fail'.   This is certainly the best book on Sylvia and on New York gay lib in the early 1970s.   I got it from the library, but it is a shame that, being published by Routledge, it is so expensive.   The hardback is US$130/C$167/£110.00; the paperback:  US$43/C$57/£35.
  • Arthur Bell & Sylvia Rivera. “Chris: Gay Prisoner in Bellevue.” Gay Flames, Nov. 14, 1970: 1, 2, 7. Online.
  • Arthur Bell. “STAR Trek: Transvestites in the street.” Village Voice, July 15, 1971, 1, 46.
  • “March on Albany”. Drag, 1,3, 1971 : 30, 32-3. Online.
  • Arthur Bell. Dancing the Gay Lib Blues: A Year in the Homosexual Liberation Movement. Simon & Schuster, 1971: 60-5, 88, 113-5, 118-120, 122-3, 145-6, 157-8, 176, 191.
  • Sylvia Rivera. “In a World of Darkness.” Come Out 2, No. 7b, Spring/Summer 1971, 17.
  • Sylvia Lee Rivera. “Transvestites: Your Half Sisters and Half Brothers of the Revolution.” Come Out 2, No. 8, Winter 1972, 10.
  • “Drags and TVs Join the March”. Drag, 3,11, 1973: 4-11,44. Online.
  • Rey “Sylvia Lee” Rivera. “The Drag Queen” in Eric Marcus. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990 : an Oral History. HarperPerennial, 1992: 187-196.
  • Martin B Duberman. Stonewall. Plume, 1994: 20-24, 65-71, 117,122-8, 182-3,,190-3,195-6,198,201,202-3,235-9, 246, 251-5, 259, 262-5, 282, 287, 280, 282, 285n10, 300n40, 308n46, 313n83-4, 314-5n94.
  • David Isay, with photographs by Harvey Wang. Holding On: Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics and Other American Heroes. New York : W.W. Norton, 1995. Contains a chapter on Sylvia.
  • Leslie Feinberg. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Boston: Beacon Press. 1998: 96-7, 106-9.
  • David Isay, with a photograph by Harvey Wang. “Sylvia Rivera”. New York Times Magazine. June 27, 1999. Online.
  • Michael Bronski. “Sylvia Rivera: 1951-2002: No longer on the back of the bumper”. ZMag. April. 2002.
  • Sylvia Rivera. “Queens in Exile, The Forgotten Ones”. In Joan Nestle, Clare Howell & Riki Wilchins (eds). GenderQueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary. Alyson Books 297 pp 2002.
  • Dora Francese (dir). Sylvia, rimembri ancora? Scr: Adi Gianuario, with Sylvia Rivera. Italy 21 mins 2001.
  • Bebe Scarpinato & Rusty Moore. “Sylvia Rivera”. Transgender Tapestry, 98, Summer 2002: 34-8. Online.
  • “Sylvia Rae Rivera”. Stonewall Veterans.
  • Paul D Cain. “David Carter: Historian of The Stonewall Riots”. Gay Today, 07/01/04.
  • Victoria I. Muñoz. "Fabulous Resistance: Carmen Miranda, Sylvia Rivera, and Queer Latinidad" National Women's Studies Association Conference. 2005.
  • Stephan L. Cohen. The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: 'an Army of Lovers Cannot Fail'. Routledge, 2008: 2, 8-9, 35-6, 37, 38, 39, 40, 56-8, 89 -92, 93-4, 96, 97-8, 101-7, 108, 109-118, 119, 121-137, 140, 141, 143, 144, 145-6, 148, 152, 153154-9, 161-2, 196, 197, 244n6, 245n19, 255n270


12 September 2017

Sylvia Rivera Part IV: Other activities to 1973

Part I: beginnings
Part II:  GAA & Weinstein Hall
Part III: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries
Part IV:  Other activities to 1973
Part V:  Later years
Young Lords and the Black Panthers
Sylvia was also involved with Puerto Rican and black youth activism, with the Young Lords and the Black Panthers.

While GLF had openly supported The Panthers, had helped them with bail money etc, there was a constant problem with the Panthers’ homophobia. They had been confronted on this issue by GLF at a rally at New Haven on 1 May 1970. Shortly afterwards Panther Huey Newton published an admonishment that militant blacks should acknowledge their insecurities about homosexuality.

The GLF was invited to send a delegation to a Panther convention in Philadelphia, and Sylvia was chosen as part of the delegation. Huey even remembered her from a demonstration in New York.
New York City Council's General Welfare committee
In late 1971, GAA succeeded, after lobbying and protesting, in getting the New York City Council's General Welfare committee to discuss the problems faced by gays and transvestites. GAA equivocated and for a while agreed to the removal of transvestite protections. However it ultimately endorsed them.

Lee Brewster, Bebe, and Sylvia argued transvestites “were being used as scapegoats by the gay movement” seeking to explain its failure to get the asked-for protections.

Sylvia, usually an extemporaneous speaker, had had her face bruised after a confrontation with police at a recent demonstration, wore a conservative dress and her hair in a bun, and read in muted fashion, a statement based on STAR’s platform.

The bill was was not passed even in 1973, when it went forward with the caveat that nothing in the definition of sexual orientation “shall be construed to bear upon the standards of attire or dress code".

There was an impromptu blockade of Brooklyn Bridge, and Sylvia and others were arrested. A few days later, during a protest at City Hall, Sylvia in polyester bell-bottoms, fortified by speedballs and a few drinks, kicked off her heels, and scaled the outside of the building.
Part VI: 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day
At the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day (CSLD), the fourth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the tensions within the gay movement that would lead to separatisms were becoming apparent.

The CSLD committee, mainly GAA members, attempted a harmonious march and rally by focusing on entertainment and speakers not involved in the city’s infighting.

Of the traditional drag show nightclubs, only Club 82 was left and it was ceding the stage to the emerging glam, glitter and punk scene. However there were still some showgirls left and Bebe Scarpi went and got them to march – in costume. Prominent were International Chrysis and Jean Chandler. Old-style performer Ty Bennett was conveyed in a convertible.
Lee in tiara; Sylvia in jumpsuit

Sylvia, wearing a jumpsuit that had belonged to the now deceased June from StarHouse, and not a listed speaker, pushed her way on to the stage, and gave an impassioned speech for Gay Power:
“They’ve been beaten up and raped. And they have had to spend much of their money in jail to get their self home and to try to get their sex change. The women have tried to fight for their sex changes or to become women of the Women’s Liberation and they write S.T.A.R., not the women’s group. They do not write women. They do not write men. They write S.T.A.R. because we’re trying to do something for them.”
Jean O’Leary of Lesbian Feminist Liberation insisted on an opportunity to reply. She asserted biological sex, and that Sylvia was “a genital male”. She read a statement on behalf of 100 women that read, in part,
"We support the right of every person to dress in the way that she or he wishes. But we are opposed to the exploitation of women by men for entertainment or profit."
She was booed and MC, Vito Russo, the film historian, asked the crowd to let her continue. Lee Brewster, jumped onstage and responded,
"You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!”
The situation was calmed only when performer Bette Midler took to the stage and sang.

All this angry public confrontation left Sylvia in such a state that she attempted suicide.

10 September 2017

Sylvia Rivera Part III: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries

The post-Stonewall activist organizations:

Queens Liberation Front (QLF)
StreetTransvestite Action Revolutionaries. (also Part III of Sylvia Rivera)
Gay Liberation Front (GLF) - New York
Gay Activists Alliance (GAA)
Gay Liberation Front (GLF) - London

Sylvia Rivera

Part I: beginnings
Part II:  GAA & Weinstein Hall
Part III: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries
Part IV:  Other activities to 1973
Part V:  Later years

After the demonstration following the eviction from Weinstein Hall, Bubbles, Sylvia, Marsha, Bebe Scarpi, Bambi L’Amour, Andorra and others continued with what became Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) which attempted to provide shelter, food and legal support for street queens.

Their first home was a trailer truck seemingly abandoned in a Greenwich Village outdoor parking area. This was a step up from sleeping in doorways, and a couple of dozen young street transvestites moved in. One morning Sylvia and Marsha were returning with groceries, and found the trailer starting to move. Most of the queens were woken by the noise and movement and quickly jumped out, although one, stoned, was half-way to California when she woke up.

Bubbles knew a Mafia person, well-known in the Village, Michael Umbers, manager of the gay bar, Christopher’s End, operator of various callboy and porno operations and also a friend of future Dog Day Afternoon bank robber, John Wojtowicz. Bubbles spoke to him and for a small deposit the S.T.A.R. commune was able to move into 213 East 2nd Street in November 1970. There was no electricity or plumbing, not even the boiler worked, nor did the toilets. However with help they got the building working and it became StarHouse. This is probably the first communal shelter that explicitly served street transvestites. Sylvia:
“We had a S.T.A.R. House—a place for all of us to sleep. It was only four rooms, and the landlord had turned the electricity off. So we lived there by candle light, a floating bunch of 15 to 25 queens, cramped in those rooms with all our wardrobe. But it worked. We’d cook up these big spaghetti dinners and sometimes we’d have sausage for breakfast, if we were feeling rich” (quoted in Cohen p131-2)
Several of them hustled.
“The contribution of the ones who didn’t make it out into the streets, who wanted something different, was to liberate food from in front of the A&P. . . . So the house was well-supplied, the building’s rent was paid, and everybody in the neighborhood loved StarHouse. They were impressed because they could leave their kids and we’d baby-sit with them. If they were hungry, we fed them. We fed half of the neighborhood because we had an abundance of food the kids liberated. It was a revolutionary thing.” (Cohen p 132-3)
Expenses were supplemented by dances and a bake sale.

S.T.A.R. put out a manifesto:
The oppression against Transvestites of either sex arises from sexist values and this oppression is manifested by heterosexuals and homosexuals of both sexes in the form of exploitation, ridicule, harrassment, beatings, rapes, murders.
Because of this oppression the majority of transvestites are forced into the street and we have formed a strong alliance with our gay sisters and brothers of the street. Who we are a part of and represent we are; a part of the REVOLUTIONARIES armies fighting against the system. 
1. We want the right to self-determination over the use of our bodies; the right to be gay, anytime, anyplace; the right to free physiological change and modification of sex on demand; the right to free dress and adornment.
2. The end to all job discrimination against transvestites of both sexes and gay street people because of attire.
3. The immediate end of all police harrassment and arrest of transvestites and gay street people, and the release of transvestites and gay street people from all prisons and all other political prisoners.
4. The end to all exploitive practices of doctors and psychiatrists who work in the field of transvestism.
5. Transvestites who live as members of the opposite gender should be able to obtain identification of the opposite gender.
6. Transvestites and gay street people and all oppressed people should have free education, health care, clothing, food, transportation, and housing.
7. Transvestites and gay street people should be granted full and equal rights on all levels of society, and full voice in the struggle for liberation of all oppressed people.
8. An end to exploitation and discrimination against transvestites within the homosexual world.
9. We want a revolutionary peoples’ government, where transvestites, street people, women, homosexuals, puerto ricans, indians, and all oppressed people are free, and not fucked over by this government who treat us like the scum of the earth and kills us off like flies, one by one, and throws us into jail to rot. This government who spends millions of dollars to go to the moon, and lets the poor Americans starve to death. 
S. T. A. R.
Sylvia continued her concern with the incarcerated. In 1970 over 4,000 boys were held in Riker’s Island, mainly because they could not afford bail. S.T.A.R. publicized what happened when transvestites were arrested, often several times: long waits in remand, beatings by guards, rape, attempted suicide. Street transvestites on the outside joined the Gay Community Prison Committee, organized protests, interviewed prisoners and attempted to provide legal aid. Sylvia and Arthur Bell discovered dancer Chris Thompson who had gone to Bellevue Hospital because of asthma, and was held because of gender deviance. They wrote up her situation in the radical publication Gay Flames.

Other Gay Flames headlines were: “U.S. Justice = Gay is Guilty,” “Street Transvestite Murdered,” “Support Lesbian, Transvestite, & Gay Inmates,” “Killers Go Free While Gays Rot in Jail".

There were prison visits and demonstrations outside prisons – especially the Women’s House of Detention on Greenwich Avenue where the prisoners could talk to passersby, and which was targeted on a weekly basis until it was closed in June 1971. (Testimony by Angela Davis and Andrea Dworkin contributed to its closing).

The national lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis, welcomed the S.T.A.R. members, but other lesbian feminists rejected ‘anachronistic’ butch and femme roles. GAA attempted to debunk stereotypes of ‘femme queens’ and ‘butch dykes’ and this undercut transvestite needs and concerns.

Sylvia could be a formidable presence, and could intimidate. Cohen tells of a petite Japanese GLF woman who thought “she was going to die.” She saw Sylvia as a “very angry, very strong Puerto Rican man.” Despite Bob Kohler’s counsel, Sylvia denied holding male privilege and its aggressive misuse.

There were tragedies. One transvestite, June, died after drinking her mixture of methadone and alcohol. In March, Marsha was overwhelmed when her husband, Cantrell, was shot dead by an off-duty cop while out to get money so that they could buy drugs. Sylvia, who had started heroin when in Riker’s Island prison, eventually locked herself in Marsha’s place and went cold turkey during several excruciating days. 

On 14 March 1972 S.T.A.R., QLF, GAA and other groups went to the New York State Capital, Albany to demonstrate for repeal of laws against sodomy, solicitation and impersonation as well as to ask for housing and employment protections. Sylvia and Kate Millet were among the speakers.

Many of the S.T.A.R. members were religious:

“We’d all get together to pray to our saints before we’d go out hustling. A majority of the queens were Latin and we believe in an emotional, spiritualistic religion. We have our own saints: Saint Barbara, the patron saint of homosexuality, St. Michael, the Archangel; La Calidad de Cobre, the Madonna of gold; and Saint Martha, the saint of transformation. St. Martha had once transformed herself into a snake, so to her we’d pray: ‘Please don’t let them see through the mask. Let us pass as women and save us from harm.’ And to the other three we’d kneel before our altar of candles and pray: ‘St. Barbara, St. Michael, La Calidad de Cobre: We know we are doing wrong, but we got to live and we got to survive, so please help us, bring us money tonight, protect us, and keep evil away.’ We kept the sword of St. Barbara at the front door and the sword of St. Michael at the back door to ward off evil. We were watched over.” (Cohen p134)

Feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson wrote an indictment of the Catholic Church which was endorsed by the Daughters of Bilitis. The church was denounced as a “ruthless foe of abortion, sexual law reform, divorce, birth control and human dignity”. This position was supported by S.T.A.R. and Gay Youth, along with GAA, GLF, Mattachine Society, NYU Gay Students’ Liberation, and Radicalesbians.

A Conference of Gay Liberation was held at Rutgers University in New Jersey in March 1971 with forums on sadism, masochism, and leather; bisexuality; and transvestism. Speakers from S.T.A.R., Queens Liberation Front and GAA addressed the inaugural event on transvestism.

In July 1971 Mike Umbers came around about the three months rent that he had not received. Bubbles mumbled something about the cost of repairs. Umbers said that if he didn’t get his money, Bubbles was as good as dead. Sylvia screamed that if he killed her, she would go to the police. Bubbles skipped town soon after, possibly for Florida.

Umbers decided against violence and simply had S.T.A.R. put out on the street for non-payment of rent. Sylvia and the others reversed the improvements and threw the refrigerator out of the back window.

Arthur Bell wrote an article for the Village Voice in July 1971 about StarHouse.
S.T.A.R. “is mainly into whoring and radical politics. Their philosophy is to destroy the system that’s fucking us over. They’re a sub-culture unaccepted within the subculture of transvestism and looked down at in horror by many of the women and men in the homosexual liberation movement. Sylvia and Marsha and Bambi and Andorra with their third world looks and their larger-than-life presences and their cut-the-crap tongues do not ‘fit’ at a GAA meeting. ‘We don’t relate to each other,’ says Sylvia. Marsha says, ‘Why should I go to their dances? No one asks me to dance. I freak them out.’ S.T.A.R. didn’t do too well with the Gay Liberation Front toward the end, either. The S.T.A.R.s relate very well to themselves, and to a certain segment of the ‘live and let live’ street people. But by and large, they’re the great unwanteds.”
Perhaps he said too much about how the inhabitants hustle. Its publication was followed by a flurry of arrests on 42nd St.
Sylvia and Marsha

Sylvia found temporary refuge with friends on 109th Street. Marsha returned to her 211 Eldridge Street apartment that once again became S.T.A.R.’s de facto address.

08 September 2017

Sylvia Rivera Part II: GAA & Weinstein Hall

Part I: beginnings
Part II:  GAA & Weinstein Hall
Part III: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries
Part IV:  Other activities to 1973
Part V:  Later years


In the months following Stonewall, Sylvia was living and working in New Jersey, and out of touch with what was going on. She met Marsha P Johnson on the street and was told about the emergence of the Gay Liberation Front, and the subsequent formation of the Gay Activists Alliance. She then noticed a new periodical, Gay Power, on the newsstands.

With another queen, Josie, she attended a GAA meeting. They were given attitude at the door, but did get in. They sat at the back, to be inconspicuous. Complaining, in Spanish, that they were in the wrong place, led to a meeting with Bebe Scarpi, who being Italian partially understood them. Bebe assured them that sisters were welcome.

However journalist Arthur Bell, born in Brooklyn, raised in Montréal, one of the founders of GAA, observed that
“the general membership is frightened of Sylvia and thinks that she is a troublemaker. They’re frightened by street people”.
Her skin color, her dress, her social class, her style of politics by confrontation put her at odds with the largely white middle-class membership.

However Bebe Scarpi ensured that Sylvia’s dues were paid each year, and she did find friends, including some of the lesbians who accepted and respected her. One such was Karla Jay, who would challenge Sylvia and Marsha in that they were embracing the very aspects of womenhood that feminists were attempting to abandon. But other lesbians denounced Sylvia for parodying women. Jean O’Leary in particular took this stance.

In GLF Bob Kohler often spoke up for the queens, despite opposition. At different times he brought along various queens, including Bambi L’Amour and Zazu Nova, but only Sylvia had the staying power. Kohler was on the committee that organized GLF dances. He put Sylvia on door duty, where, even though often stoned, she fiercely collected and guarded the money.

GAA had started a petition to get the reluctant Carol Greitzer of New York City Council representing Greenwich Village to introduce a bill for gay rights. Sylvia liked the idea and starting soliciting signatures right on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues where she did her usual sex hustling. On 15 April 1970 there was an anti-war demonstration down the street, and cops, actually the Tactical Patrol Force, told her to move. This escalated and she was arrested and, after paying a $50 bail, was late for her 11pm shift in New Jersey. However she did get one of the arresting officers to sign the petition, “a Jewish cop. He was young. He was very good looking.”

She recounted her adventures at GAA. This was heard by Arthur Bell, who wrote a story for Gay Power, and made Sylvia a celebrity. When her case came to court the public gallery was filled with activists from GAA and GLF. Gay attorney Hal Weiner volunteered his services, and GAA picked up the legal fees. It was also her first meeting with Bob Kohler.

The next public appearance of Sylvia was at the 1970 Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, the first anniversary of Stonewall. Sylvia and Bebe led the parade repeatedly chanting a spelling of GAY POWER along the 60 blocks of the march, up 6th Avenue and into Central Park.

After several appearances, Sylvia’s court case was thrown out 28 August when the arresting officer failed to show.
"I was happy at GAA for a while.  But it wasn't my calling.  I found out later on that they only believed in acquiring civil rights for the gay community as a whole.  Which is fine.  They did a lot of good just concentrating on the gay issue.  But they left the queens behind.
" I enjoyed Gay Liberation Front better because we concentrated on many issues for many different struggles.  We're all in the same boat as long as we're being oppressed one way or another, whether we are gay, straight, trans, black, yellow, green, purple or whatever.  If we don't fight for each other, we'll be put down.  And after all these years, the trans community is still at the back of the bus."  (Rivera in GenderQueer, 2002: 80)

Weinstein Hall

In August-September 1970, the Gay Activist Alliance and then the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee had booked the basement of Weinstein Hall, a New York University residence building for fundraising dances. On the eve of the third dance, to be held 21 August, the administration attempted to cancel the rest. Although the two remaining dances were held, the situation escalated and the Hall was occupied.

As Sylvia immersed herself in gay liberation, she failed to attend to her everyday life, and she lost her job, her home, her dog, her sewing machine and her relationship with Gary. She was sitting in the park on Christopher Street, across from the Stonewall tavern, with her suitcase and shopping cart, when Bob Kohler came by and told her of the sit-in at Weinstein Hall. He pushed her shopping cart for her. She was pleased to see friends among the other volunteers: Marsha Johnson and Bubbles Rose Lee. They discovered a matron’s bathroom, and Sylvia and others from the street were able to clean up.

Disparate gay types bonded: street people, middle-class, those used to passing for straight, students, Latinos, black, white. The lesbians and the transvestites got on. Sylvia said: “I never knew lesbians like you. The only lesbians I knew were street dykes. But you’re all really nice”. One replied: “I feel the same way about you, Sylvia. I’ve never known any drag queens before”. “Transvestites”, said Sylvia. “Transvestites”. (quoted Bell p115; Cohen p 113).

It was here that the idea of a home for street people evolved. At first it was called Street Transvestites for Gay Power. On the Thursday night, the NYU students had been invited to meet the protesters. Sylvia ran uptown to the GAA meeting and implored more GAA persons to attend. Most GAA members did not seem to care, but a few came, one of whom was Bebe Scarpi.

A further dance was planned for Friday 25 September. However the administration called the New York City Tactical Police Squad, which gave the occupiers 10 seconds to vacate the Hall.

Cohen p117

05 September 2017

Sylvia Rae Rivera (1951-2002) activist - beginnings

Part I: beginnings
Part II:  GAA & Weinstein Hall
Part III: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries
Part IV:  Other activities to 1973
Part V:  Later years

Early life

Ray José Christian Rivera Mendoza, was three years old when his mother, aged 22, facing death threats from her husband, drank rat poison mixed with milk and gave the same mixture to her children. They would not drink it, but she, after two days of agony, died.

Ray’s Puerto Rican father had already disappeared. He came back only once, and never paid child support. Ray’s Venezuelan-born grandmother, called Viejita (‘old lady’, even though she was only in her forties) took Ray and his younger half-sister to live in Jersey City, where she raised them on less than $50 a week. In 1958 Viejita fell ill for a matter of months, and afterwards sent Ray to live with friends.

He returned at weekends and holidays. By now Viejita was living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Ray had had sex with an older cousin at age seven, and at age 10 was having regular sex with a married man down the street. He also wore Viejita’s clothes and makeup when Viejita was out. Ray wore makeup at school from the fourth grade, apparently with no-one noticing except for one teacher who seduced him.

Ray was a noted athlete in track and gymnastics. In the sixth-grade there was an incident when a larger classmate called him a ‘faggot’, and Ray won the resulting fight.

However at age eleven, in 1962, Ray discovered 42nd Street where he had heard that the maricónes were to be found. However a neighbour spotted him, which led to a row with Viejita, a suicide attempt and two months in Bellevue Hospital.

A few months later Ray left and moved in with Gary, a lover that he would stay with for seven years. They both hustled and did drugs, and became well-known around Times Square. Ray was urged to take a new name. ‘Sylvia’ was proposed: “There is no Sylvia around”. So with a formal christening, a white gown and a preacher from a Pentecostal Hispanic church, she became Sylvia Lee Rivera.

By now she had met Marsha P Johnson, who – although only seven years older – acted as a drag mother and showed Sylvia how to survive on the streets. Marsha got her a job at the Childs restaurant chain, first as a messenger. Sylvia was then promoted to billing clerk, and then, working in suit and tie with full makeup, in accounts payable.

Sylvia still did hustling, and after her first arrest she was in the Brooklyn House of Detention for three days. Sylvia was welcomed by Gary’s family, but Viejita was resistant.
“You can’t love another man!”, and later “Why can’t you have a Spanish boy?” – to which Sylvia came back: “Oh, sure, sure – so I can go kill myself like my mother did?”

By the time that she was 15, Sylvia was hustling as a woman. Several times guns were pulled on her, but she never had more than $20 in her purse – the rest was in the hem of her skirt. Sometimes her gender was challenged, but with a wig hair on a tight gaff, she was able to bluff it through. However one night with a trick, her penis did pop out. He beat her hard, she pulled the gun from her purse, and had to use it. After he recovered, the trick toured the Times Square area with two cops in tow until he had her arrested.

Ray called Viejita who did the grandmother act and got Ray released. On a lawyer’s advice, Ray cut his hair, quit the makeup, enrolled in school and appeared in court a model clean-cut teenage boy. “I ask you, your honor; does this look like a street hustler or a transvestite?” The judge agreed, and Sylvia walked.

In Spring 1966, the new New York City mayor, John Lindsay, announced a crackdown on pornography and prostitution. Sylvia, at her usual spot on 9th Avenue and 44th Street was one of many caught in the sweep. Sylvia was put in the gay section in Rikers Island prison. It was here that she started doing heroin. She also met a good-looking black queen who went by the name Bambi L’Amour. They threw shade at each other, and then became firm friends.

Back on the streets, Sylvia teamed up with Kim, a cis woman, and they hustled together, often robbing their tricks. Sylvia was sometimes spending $200 a day on heroin, and hustling in a white fox coat. She also paid for hormone treatments. At first she and her friends had gone to a doctor on the Lower East Side until she got a discharge from her right breast, and found that she had been taking monkey hormones. She switched to Dr Stern on 5th Avenue, who was willing to take bodily contact instead of payment. However she decided to stop the injections.
“I don’t want to be a woman. I just want to be me. … I like pretending. I like to have the role. I like to dress up and pretend, and let the world think about what I am. Is he, or isn’t he?”
One night Sylvia was told that Viejita was ill. Although it was 2am, and she was stoned and in full drag, she hailed a cab and went right over. Viejita opened the door and exclaimed:
“Oh my god, you look just like your mother!” Sylvia replied: “Well, who am I supposed to look like?”
Cohen p146
On her sixteenth birthday, Ray was invited to attend the local draft board. She appeared in high heels, miniskirt, long red nails, the works. Despite her proclamation, “I’m one of the boys”, she was sent with a bunch of women to an induction center in Newark. A psychiatrist asked if there were a problem with her sexuality.
“I know I like men. I know I like to wear dresses. But I don’t know what any problem is.”
She also produced papers from the stay in Bellevue that stated that she was homosexual. The psychiatrist stamped HOMOSEXUAL on the induction notice, and told her that she could go home.  On a roll, Sylvia announced that she hadn’t any money, and needed a lift home. And she got it.

where was Sylvia the night of 27/28 June 1969?

Sylvia was still 17 on this date, five days short of her birthday July 2. 18 was the legal drinking age in New York State at this time. Despite being underage she had a preferred bar: the Washington Square at Broadway and 3rd Street. It opened at 3 am and catered primarily to transvestites.

27/8 June 1969, of course was the first night of the Stonewall riots. (the following accounts are sorted by date).

Holly Woodlawn, A Low Life in High Heels, 1992: 124-5:

"June 26, 1969, was a hot, muggy Thursday night. The humidity in the air was unbearable because every queen in the city was in tears. Judy Garland was dead. ... When I returned to the Stonewall the next night, there was so much commotion --sirens blaring, people screaming --I thought that a bomb had gone off. The cops were everywhere, and a chill shot up my spine as I drew closer, fearing the worst. I wedged myself into the mob for a closer look and heard a raspy scream, 'Asshole!' A street queen named Crazy Sylvia had just broken a gin bottle over a cop's head!"

Rey “Sylvia Lee” Rivera. “The Drag Queen” in Eric Marcus. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990 : an Oral History. HarperPerennial, 1992: 191-2.

“We had just come back from Washington, DC, my first lover and I. At that time we were passing bad paper around and making lots of money. And I said, ‘Let’s go to the Stonewall,’ So I was drinking at the bar, and the police came in to get their payoff as usual. They were the same who always used to come into the Washington Square Bar.
“I don’t know if it was was the customers or if it was the police, but that night everything just clicked. Every was like, ‘Why the fuck are we doing all this for? Why should we be chastised? Why do we have to pay the Mafia all this kind of money to drink in a lousy fuckin’ bar? And still be harassed by the police?’ It didn’t make any sense. The prople at them bars, especially at the Stonewall, were involved in other movememts. And everybody was like: “We got to do our thing. We’re gonna go for it!”
“When they ushered us out, they very nicely put us out the door. …
“That night I got knocked around a bit by a couple of plainsclothes cops. I didn’t really get hurt. I was very careful that night, thank God. But I saw other people being hurt by the police. There was one drag queen, I don’t know what she said, but they just beat her her into a bloody pulp. There were a couple of dykes they took out and threw in a car.”

Martin Duberman. Stonewall. Plume, 1994: 190-3.

Sylvia and Gary had returned from passing bad checks in Washington, DC. Sylvia also had a job as an accounting clerk in a Jersey City warehouse. There was to be a party at Marsha’s, but Sylvia decided to stay home, until Tammy Novak phoned, and absolutely insisted, would not take ‘no’ for an answer, that they meet later in the Stonewall. When the cops raided, Sylvia panicked thinking that she had forgotten her ID, but Gary had brought it. A cop asked if she were a boy or a girl, and she almost swung at him, but Gary grabbed her in time. The cop told her to get out of the place. She then watched from the park across the street.

Duberman adds in the endnotes p300n40: “At least two people credit Sylvia herself with provoking the riot: Jeremiah Newton (New York Native, June 15, 1990) has her throwing an empty gin bottle that smashed in front of the Stonewall door; and Ivan Valentin (interview July 5, 1991) insists that Sylvia actually jumped a cop and thereby ‘started the Gay Liberation movement’. But I’ve found no corroboration for either account, and Sylvia herself, with a keener regard for the historical record, denies the accuracy of both versions. She does remember ‘throwing bricks and rocks and things’ after the mêlée began, but takes no credit for initiating the confrontation.”

Sylvia Rivera. “Queens in Exile, the Forgotton Ones” in Joan Nestle, Clare Howell & Riki Wilchins. GenderQueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary. Alyson books, 2002: 77-8.

This account of Stonewall is notable in being in the plural. Sylvia does not say that she actually was there.

“The night Stonewall happened everybody was out partying. People were mourning, even me. We were mourning Judy Garland’s death. Some authors have said that the riot came out of Judy Garland’s death, but that’s not true. Judy had nothing to do with the riot. … We fought back. … So this night was different. This was the start of out talking back, speaking up for ourselves. … they proofed us. We went out the door. But no one dispersed.”

Bebe Scarpinato & Rusty Moore. “Sylvia Rivera Obituary”. Transgender Tapestry, 98, Summer 2002:34.

“She was present and participated in the Stonewall Riots, which became the determining event of her life.”

That is all that they say about Stonewall.

David Carter, author of Stonewall : the riots that sparked the gay revolution, 2004, did not mention Sylvia Rivera even once in his book. He was interviewed by Gay Today, and asked about this lacuna.

“I am afraid that I could only conclude that Sylvia's account of her being there on the first night was a fabrication. Randy Wicker told me that Marsha P. Johnson, his roommate, told him that Sylvia was not at the Stonewall Inn at the outbreak of the riots as she had fallen asleep in Bryant Park after taking heroin. (Marsha had gone up to Bryant Park, found her asleep, and woke her up to tell her about the riots.) Playwright and early gay activist Doric Wilson also independently told me that Marsha Johnson had told him that Sylvia was not at the Stonewall Riots. Sylvia also showed a real inconsistency in her accounts of the Stonewall Riots. In one account she claimed that the night the riots broke out was the first time that she had ever been at the Stonewall Inn; in another account she said that she had been there many times. In one account she said that she was there in drag; in another account she says that she was not in drag. She told Martin Duberman that she went to the Stonewall Inn the night the riots began to celebrate Marsha Johnson's birthday, but Marsha was born in August, not June. I also did not find one credible witness who saw her there on the first night.”

Stephan L. Cohen. The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: 'an Army of Lovers Cannot Fail', 2008: 90.

“Overcoming adversity is but one aspect of their story. Street transvestites were in the forefront of the gay liberation movement—joining those responsible for the Stonewall Rebellion: transvestites and lesbians who resisted inside the bar, street kids protesting outside, including Jackie Hormona reported to have “kicked a cop,” the effeminate gay male “flame queens,” and the “lesbian who fought the police” along with other gays, lesbians, agitators, students, and passers-by. Street transvestite Marsha P. Johnson was seen climbing a lamppost and dropping “a bag containing a heavy object” on a police car windshield, shattering it. Although Sylvia Rivera later explained that she had come down the avenue, turned the corner and joined the protest (this would presumably have been on one of the subsequent nights, as neither Bob Kohler nor Marsha saw Sylvia that first night).”

Cohen adds a footnote: p244n6. “Martin Duberman’s lively, Stonewall account of Sylvia’s participation in the Stonewall rebellion conflicts with Bob Kohler’s understanding: Sylvia privately acknowledged to Kohler that she was not present the first night of rioting (Bob Kohler, interview by author, NYC, July 21, 2003).”


It does not matter whether Sylvia was at Stonewall or not; whether she watched passively or joined in.  What she did later, in STAR and in being the public face of transgender in 1970s New York, is what is important.   This we will see in the next part.